Public Health Act funerals
There are occasions when people die and there are no relatives or friends available to arrange their funeral. In such cases we're responsible for arranging the funeral of any person who has died within our boundary, other than in hospital, where it appears that no other agency or persons are making suitable arrangements for the disposal of the body. These are known as Public Health Act funerals.
We have a duty under Section 46 of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 to "cause to be buried or cremated the body of any person who has died or is found to be dead" within Shropshire, and where it appears "that no suitable arrangements for the disposal of the body have been or are being made". People who typically require this type of action are those who die intestate and with no next of kin.
We'll only take responsibility for arranging funerals and estates in extreme circumstances.
We'll first try to locate living relatives or friends of the deceased, and in some cases pass the responsibility on to them. If it's found that there is no one either willing or able to undertake this responsibility, we'll deal with all aspects of arranging the funeral. We're then entitled to recover the funeral costs from the estate of the deceased.
In cases where there are assets that exceed the cost of the funeral, and where there are no other bills outstanding, any money left will go to the Estates Group within the Bona Vacantia (small receipts) Division of the Government Legal Department, in accordance with the rules set down by the secretary of state. For more information, and to view the Government Legal Department's Estates register, please visit the Bona Vacantia website.
When does a Public Health Act funeral take place?
We normally act on instructions received from the local coroner's office. In some instances the managers of residential homes and sheltered accommodation advise us of circumstances where a death has occurred within their accommodation and, as far as they know, there are no living relatives.
What happens next?
Public Health funeral referrals can come from various sources including His Majesty’s Coroner, GP’s, care homes, social workers or family
The Council has the right, where possible, to recover all the costs incurred in making the funeral arrangements from the deceased’s estate.
This includes accessing bank accounts, savings, investments, selling belongings or placing a charge against property owned. To do this we may need to enter the deceased’s property, to identify any estate and remove items or assets. While we appreciate it is
difficult, we ask that family and friends don’t remove any items themselves. Where there is no estate, no costs will be claimed back.
We won't become involved if any funeral arrangements have already been made, or the funeral has already taken place. We won't part-fund a funeral or contribute to the cost of a funeral which has already been organised by someone else.
We would not normally undertake funeral arrangements if the deceased died in hospital. Under these circumstances the hospital authorities would take responsibility. It's also understood that the hospital authorities would require reimbursement should any money later become available to enable this.
We would not normally undertake funeral arrangements if the next of kin were in receipt of benefits, as the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) would pay most, if not all, of the funeral bill, although this would of course be dependent on what was requested of the funeral director. It's sensible to inform a funeral director straight away of all or any financial limitation so that they can remain within a client's means.
If the person died outside of the council boundary, the funeral arrangements will be the responsibility of the local authority where they died, even if they lived within the Shropshire Council area.
Burial or cremation?
Unless it appears that the deceased would have been against a cremation, we'll make arrangements with a funeral director for the deceased to be cremated at Emstrey Crematorium in Shrewsbury. This will be a non-attended direct cremation. There will not be a funeral service for family and friends to attend.
The cremated remains of the deceased would be scattered in the gardens of remembrance unless other specific instructions are found amongst the deceased's possessions, or in a will. However, any costs associated with specific instructions must first be met through the deceased's estate, or by family members. Where a family member wishes to retain the remains then they must be collected from the crematorium or funeral director by that person.
If the deceased person has left any paperwork, or had previously advised someone with whom we have made contact, that they specifically wanted to be buried, suitable arrangements for a burial will be made.
In either case an appropriate funeral would be arranged (as far as possible) in accordance with the deceased's known beliefs and wishes.
Getting help to pay for a funeral
If you're the person responsible for arranging a funeral and are on a low income or are in receipt of certain benefits or tax credits, then you may be eligible for a Funeral Expenses Payment from the Department for Work and Pensions.
Details on eligibility and how to apply can be found on the Gov.UK website or you can claim by phone by calling the Bereavement Service helpline 0800 151 2012.
For further information about funeral payments, bereavement payments and bereavement allowances, follow the DWP Bereavement Service link above.
Other sources of funding may be available from charities, and you can identify ones that you may be eligible to apply to by using the grant search on the Turn2Us website.
Requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000
We're frequently asked for information about public health funerals, people who have died with no known next of kin, bona vacantia estates and estates which have been referred to the Government Legal Department. In response to these requests, we've compiled some information about Public Health Act funerals which have taken place recently.
This information will be updated with information relating to public health funerals on a quarterly basis.
Exemption of updated information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000
There are relatively few public health funerals in Shropshire and, therefore, we consider that publication of this information at quarterly intervals is reasonable. The provision of updated information before the next planned update will be exempted under section 22 of the act as it is information that we hold with the intention of publishing at some future date, as specified above.
Exemption of additional information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000
We apply the following exemptions to the release of any further information about public health funerals, people who have died with no known next of kin, bona vacantia estates and estates which have been referred to the Treasury Solicitor, or Duchy of Lancaster or Cornwall:
Section 21- information reasonably accessible to the applicant by another means
Our reason for applying this exemption is that details of all deaths within the borough are registered. Deaths can be registered at any register office, and contact details of all those within Shropshire, can be found on our Bereavement Services pages.
Information that we hold on estates passed, or estates to be passed, to the Treasury Solicitor, is considered to be held on behalf of the Treasury Solicitor’s Department. Some details of the estate of those persons who have died and which have been passed to the Treasury Solicitor can be accessed via the Treasury Solicitor’s website, or via the Bona Vacantia website.
Section 31 – law enforcement
Revealing details of the assets of an estate before the Treasury Solicitor has undertaken their own enquiries would provide an opportunity for criminal acts to be committed (for example, theft or fraud). Similarly, there would be concerns about making the last known address of the deceased public, as the property is likely to be unoccupied and might still contain the deceased’s personal papers and effects. There's also a continuing risk after the estate has been secured of, for example, identity theft. Taking into account the above issues, we consider that there is no overriding public interest in releasing the information requested. Any public interest would be best served by upholding the exemption under section 31 of the act as disclosure of the information would be likely to prejudice the prevention of crime by enabling or encouraging the commission of offences.